Wilderness captivates me. For as long as I can remember, exploring wild places has played a key role in my life. Heading out on a multiday trek—whether to a remote alpine basin set in a sea of rocky crags or an undisturbed watershed threaded by an untamed river—helps me make sense of the world.
This year, I’m entering a new phase in my relationship with wild places. I feel it’s time I give something back. I was recently asked, and gladly accepted, to serve on the board of directors for a five-year-old nonprofit organization, the Selway-Bitterroot Foundation (www.selwaybitterroot.org). With offices in Idaho and Montana, to cover both sides of the two-state Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, the group is dedicated to on-the-ground stewardship of the 1.3-million-acre wilderness area. This sprawling expanse of protected wild country covers much of north-central Idaho. It also spills over into Montana on the leeward side of the rugged Bitterroot Range just south of Missoula.
Stepping outside to the residential street in front of my temporary home here in Missoula where I’m attending graduate school, I can gaze to the now-snow covered summit of Lolo Peak. This rocky sentinel marks the northernmost limits of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. I’m reminded each day how fortunate I am to live in such a wonderful place as I watch the last light fade behind this remote crag.
The Selway-Bitterroot Foundation’s efforts aren’t focused solely on the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. They also extend out to surrounding forestlands and roadless areas of the Nez Perce, Clearwater, Lolo and Bitterroot national forests. The area covers the Selway and Lochsa river basins in Idaho and the Bitterroot River Valley in Montana. Within this rugged slice of paradise, there are unspoiled old growth forests containing thousand-year-old cedars, the ragged crest of the Selway Crags, remote Meadow Creek and much more.
The Selway-Bitterroot Foundation works with the U.S. Forest Service to help steward this stunning landscape. We take on important tasks like maintaining backcountry trails, monitoring for invasive weeds and repairing old, wind-battered fire lookouts. Our wilderness ranger internship program is another exciting venture. Its primary purpose is to provide on-the-ground mentoring for university-level students who are studying wilderness-recreation management. In 2010, up to six interns will spend the summer working and training in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness under the leadership of the Selway-Bitterroot Foundation and the Forest Service.
One of the things I like most about this organization is its strong record of bringing wilderness lovers of all backgrounds together to protect this special place for future generations. Working side-by-side in this effort are backpackers and mule packers, city dwellers and rural residents.
In my role at the foundation, I will be using my writing and photography background to help shed light on the amazing work that’s happening in the Selway-Bitterroot backcountry due to the dedication of everyday volunteers. I’m certain I’ll be blogging about this new endeavor of mine often. To learn more about our current and future efforts, check out this link to the Selway-Bitterroot Foundation’s winter newsletter, http://www.selwaybitterroot.org/SBF-Winter-2010-Newsletter-Web-Version.pdf.